Professor Milanovic begins this book by explaining, "The objective of the stories around which this book is organized is to show, in an unusual and entertaining way, how inequality of income and wealth is present in many facets of our daily lives, in the stories we read or the discussions we have around our kitchen tables or in our schools or offices, and how inequality appears when we look at certain well-known phenomena from a different angle...The book is organized around three types of inequalities. In the first part, I deal with inequality among individuals within a single community - typically a nation...In the second part, I deal with inequality in income among countries or nations - which is also intuitively close to most of us because it is the sort of thing we notice when we travel, or when we watch the international news...In the third part, I move to the topic whose relevance and importance are of a much more recent vintage: global inequality, or inequality among all citizens of the world."
Professor Milanovic accomplishes this task by introducing the reader to several tools that professional economists use to describe and quantify inequality; "Kuznets' Hypothesis," the "Gini coefficient," and "Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) dollars," to name a few. The book is, on the whole, very engaging and easy to grasp. Each of the three chapters begins with an essay which is followed by several vignettes, or short stories, that give concrete examples of ideas outlined in the essay. There are more than a few spots in this book where Milanovic does a great job of dispelling some widely held myths. For example, "A lesson from the collapse of the communist federations is that an important part of the reason for the breakup lies in the inability of communist authorities - despite their successful policy to contain and reduce interpersonal inequality - to reduce huge, historically inherited income differences among the constituent members." Which bears a remarkable resemblance to today's China; "The single most serious threat to Chinese unity is increasing inequality."
In closing, I really enjoyed this book, both from a historical and an economic angle. It may deserve five stars, but I gave it only four because I disagreed with Professor Milanovic's stance on immigration; I tend to agree with the view that John Rawls advocates ("Increasing obstacles to migration raised by rich countries would be, one is led to believe, viewed as fully justified by Rawls."), whereas Milanovic states that, "Whether it is under the pressure of domestic labor or out of fear of cultural heterogeneity, the rich world has begun a process of walling itself in, creating de facto gated communities at the world level." I garnered my view having read The Central Liberal Truth: How Politics Can Change a Culture and Save It from Itself and Culture Matters: How Values Shape Human Progress. Regardless however, I believe there will probably be no major change from this perspective, because as Professor Milanovic rightly points out, "Inequality studies are not particularly appreciated by the rich."